The ABCs of losing your Zs

Jessica Sprowl

Sleeping disorders plague many young adults

Credit: Ben Breier

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Kicking and thrashing, tossing and turning, struggling to get comfortable – paranoia sets in and the faintest sound becomes heightened. Branches tap on the windows, and the shadows on the walls begin to take shape and move. You lie there, engulfed in the black abyss, waiting for your eyelids to get heavy, just waiting to fall asleep.

Sleeping disorders and sleep deprivation are high among young adults, making days not seem long enough to get everything done. Night time becomes the time to catch up and cram for these individuals.

According to The National Institute of Health, the average human passes through five stages during sleep: stage one, two, three, four and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Fifty percent of total sleep time is spent in stage-two sleep, about 20 percent is in REM sleep and the remaining 30 percent is in the other stages.

For most adults, seven to eight hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as five hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day. However, a person can get into “sleep debt,” much like credit card debt. Eventually the body will demand the debt gets repaid.

The NIH also found about 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-termed sleep disorders each year, and about 20 million people will suffer from occasional sleep problems. These disorders and the resulting sleep deprivation interfere with work, driving and social activities. They also account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year.

The most common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy.

Sophomore architecture major Bruce Short does not have a sleeping disorder, but he pulls many all-nighters working in the architecture studio. The longest he has stayed up for school has been 40 to 50 hours without any naps.

“I’m definitely more used to it (all-nighters) now than I was last year,” he said. “I really don’t mind all-nighters since I enjoy my work. It’s worth it.”

Short, who usually pulls an all-nighter at least once every two weeks, depending on his work load, drinks lots of pop and takes caffeine mints to help keep him going throughout the day.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m in this state of mind of not being awake, but not being asleep,” he said.

Short also has found other tricks to help stay awake.

“Don’t eat large meals, eat light snacks throughout the night and drink lots of water, and drink sugar-free drinks so you don’t have a sugar crash,” he said.

In Sleep in America 2000, the National Sleep Foundation’s 2000 poll, the NSF found more than half the country’s young adults, aged 18 to 29, wake up feeling tired, while 33 percent remain tired throughout the day.

“At any age, the effects of sleepiness range from annoying to deadly,” NSF Executive Director Richard Gelula said. “But younger adults appear to be at a higher risk for suffering consequences due to sleepiness.”

The poll found one out of two younger adults said they would sleep less in order to get more done, and an almost equal percentage (55 percent) admitted to postponing bedtime to watch TV or use the Internet.

Also, despite poll findings, 75 percent of young adults are never questioned by their doctor about their sleep habits. And, of all those who seek sleep aid, 26 percent of young adults turn to alcohol for help, even though that actually disrupts sleep.

NSF’s 2005 Sleep in America poll states almost three in 10 working adults said they have missed work, events/activities or made errors at work because of sleep-related issues in the past three months.

The poll also showed an increase in drowsy driving since the 1999 poll. Of all licensed drivers, 60 percent said they have driven drowsy within the past year. This means about 115 million people have been drowsy behind the wheel, and more than seven million have had an accident or near-accident due to drowsy driving or actually falling asleep behind the wheel.

Janet Heath, a respiratory therapist and sleep technician at Akron General Hospital’s sleep lab, said about 30 percent of the hospital’s patients are young adults, and sleep apnea and narcolepsy are the most common sleep disorders among younger people.

“I was there (in college) and went through it all,” she said. “I stayed up all night cramming.”

Heath also recommends eating healthy, getting plenty of rest and having no caffeine after 6 p.m., as well as no nicotine about an hour to an hour-and-a-half before bed.

Contact features correspondent Jessica Sprowl at [email protected].